A subject to make even the manliest of men blush, prostate health is not one from which to shy away. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system that plays a role in sexual and urinary health. Although seemingly tiny and of miniscule importance, an unhealthy prostate can actually grow into a really big problem, quite literally, when overlooked for too long.
A Growing Problem
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (hypertrophy), or BPH, is a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland, of which the exact cause is not known. BPH affects approximately half of men over age 40 (1). Research suggests the presence of the male sex hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is produced from testosterone and the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, leads to prostate enlargement. Also, the hormone estradiol, of which production increases in men as they age, may act together with DHT to result in BPH.
BPH leads to a gradual pinching or obstruction of the urethra causing progressive disorders in the urinary system such as chronic prostatitis (inflammation or infection of the prostate), chronic cystitis (bladder and urethral inflammation/infection), urine retention, painful urination and/or ejaculation, inability or difficulty urinating, pain in the lower back, abdomen and hips, frequency, incontinence—in other words, big problems. In addition, impotence and other sexual troubles develop, often leading to emotional, psychological and relationship dilemmas. Not all symptoms lead to more serious conditions, but their presence can be enough to reduce quality of life dramatically.
You Want Me to What?!
In order to address BPH, men have several options. One option, an uneasy prospect for some to consider to its, well, intrusive nature, prostate massage often gets a bad wrap. However, prostate massage has been used for centuries to relieve the symptoms of prostate disorders and maintain healthy prostates in lieu of pharmaceuticals and/or surgery.
A two-year study involving 90 patients suffering from symptoms related to BPH with an average age of about 56, tested the effectiveness of a patented prostate massager. Results showed that symptoms of pain and discomfort shrank by 44.2%, urination issues declined by 41.99% and overall quality of life improved by 42.45% with use of the massager two to three times a week for one month. The study notes that prostate massage works by “increasing blood flow to the lower pelvic region and flushing out toxins” (2).
Dietary supplements are gaining popularity as being a safe, less invasive and cost-effective way to address prostate problems. Some of the most commonly used supplements follow.
Saw palmetto is often used to prevent and reduce enlargement of the prostate caused by BPH. It is derived from the berries of the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) plant that is indigenous to the southeastern coastal areas of the United States and other tropical areas. There is no consensus as to exactly how saw palmetto helps with prostate problems, but it has been “estimated that 70% of men using saw palmetto report marked improvements in urinary function” (1). A more commonly accepted theory supporting saw palmetto is that it reduces levels of DHT, thereby slowing prostate enlargement and subsequent symptoms. Saw palmetto may also help with prostate problem symptoms by inhibiting certain substances called “prostanoids” that lead to inflammation, irritation and smooth muscle spasms (3).
The American Botanical Council monograph on saw palmetto suggests taking 400 mg twice daily of normalized extract, containing approximately 25% fatty acids (4). Patients should consult their doctor before starting any supplement regimen, and supplement labels should be read carefully to ensure proper dosing.
Pygeum is an extract from an African tree bark shown to reduce swelling of the prostate around the urethra and to improve urinary symptoms. It can be used together with saw palmetto for optimal results. Some minor side effects have been reported, including minor digestive upset (3). In addition, stinging nettle might enhance the mechanism of saw palmetto and pygeum, as well as inhibiting DHT activity (3).
Prostate troubles often lead to infection and irritation in the urethra. Therefore, cranberry can be useful to prevent, soothe and treat urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria from attaching to the urethral cell walls. For more information, refer to WholeFoods Magazine, October 2008, page 59.
In addition to BPH, prostate cancer affects a tremendous amount of men. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer (other than some forms of skin cancer) and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in the United States, after lung cancer, with about 62% of all clinically diagnosed prostate cancers occurring in men over age 65 (5). Many symptoms of BPH also seem to be common to prostate cancer (1).
Prostates and…Pasta Sauce?
Yes! Lycopene, a carotenoid responsible for the pigment in red and pink fruits such as tomatoes and grapefruit, has been shown to help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. According to a statement published by the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, “The strongest known dietary risk factor for prostate cancer is a lycopene deficit” (1). The lycopene in cooked tomatoes is more bioavailable than that of uncooked tomatoes, which is welcome news to the millions of male pasta and pizza lovers out there looking for a healthy reason to chow down. If waistline-watching is an issue, lycopene is also available in supplement form.
Here’s to Prostate Health
A recent study determined that men who drink an average of four to seven glasses of red wine per week are only 52% as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer as those who do not (6). The scientists compared different types of alcohol, finding red to have the most benefit. For every additional glass of red wine per week, the relative risk declined by 6%. It is speculated that the antioxidant properties of the flavonoids and resveratrol contained in red wine make it particularly effective. Resveratrol also induces apoptosis (cell death) of prostate cancer cells (6).
The prostate gland is very rich in zinc, containing more than any other organ. Zinc influences hormonal activity in the prostate and can, like saw palmetto, reduce the activity of 5-alpha reductase (3). It has been noted that small amounts of zinc are necessary for the activity of the enzyme and that larger amounts seem to inhibit; lower levels of zinc have been associated with patients suffering from BPH and prostate cancer (3).
Selenium is a powerhouse trace mineral that has been shown to be extremely effective against free radicals and to shield cells from free radical induced-oxidation. In fact, the largest-ever prostate cancer prevention trial, the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) involving 35,000 participants, aimed to prove the existing hypotheses that selenium and vitamin E might reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer by 60% and 30%, respectively.
Although the study was controversially cut short, a study of this scale and interest of this magnitude are indicators of progress in discovering new ways to ensure prostate health. WF
1. M. Zimmerman, and J. Kroner, 7-Syndrome Healing (Nutrition Solution Publications, Chici, CA, 2006).
2. High Island Health May 2008 Prospective Study.
3. M. Janson, All About Saw Palmetto and Prostate Health (Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, NY, 1999).
4. American Botanical Council Saw Palmetto Monograph. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalmedicine/SawPalmettoberry.html
5. U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. “United States Cancer Statistics: 2004 Incidence and Mortality.” Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Washington, D.C.: National Cancer Institute; 2007.
6. “Prostate Benefits of Red Wine.” Harvard Men’s Health Watch, June 1, 2007.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Feb 09
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